NEW HAVEN, CT – Things got heated at the Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday night as the fire union and members of New Haven Firebirds raised allegations that minority firefighters aren’t being disciplined equally in the Fire Department.
Fire Chief Michael Grant and Assistant Chief Patrick Egan were attending a graduation ceremony for members of the city’s Community Emergency Response Team at the same time as the meeting. Grant couldn’t be reached for comment late Tuesday night.
Fire union President James Kottage told the committee that a firefighter who was late to work seven months ago is now being disciplined.
Firefighter Reginald Blakey was late to work Nov. 17, Kottage said. Blakey said he received a letter Sunday that he would have to appear before the Board of Fire Commissioners.
The issue shouldn’t be about whether or not Blakey should be disciplined, but that it comes seven months after the incident.
Specifics about Blakey’s personnel record weren’t discussed at the meeting.
“When I’m dealing with Chief Egan it’s his way or no way,” Kottage said. “He is very harsh and uncompassionate.”
Kottage went on to say that there are six Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities complaints against the department that he is aware of. One of the more recent complaints came from Firefighter Aaron Brantley, who was later arrested for attempted bribery of witnesses. His criminal case is pending trial.
Kottage described the relationship between the union and the chief’s office as “… a bad marriage and we are asking for help.”
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts spoke at the meeting and said the city takes CHRO complaints very seriously, but that the city doesn’t, “traffic in rumors or insinuations, but in facts.”
Commission member Alderman Jacqueline James, D-3, fired back at Smuts several times.
“I see a room filled with young African American men here… what you are trying to do is minimize the issue, this is an issue,” she said.
Smuts and James went back and forth. Smuts later said that he sat on the committee that ultimately hired Egan and that the city was looking for more consistent discipline in the department during the hiring process. He noted that sick time was down by one-fifth and worker’s compensation cases were down by one-third.
James asked if the department had specific guidelines for dealing with discipline. Smuts said the department didn’t, but that most departments don’t have every specific laid out.
Firebird member Darrell Brooks spoke at length to the committee.
“I’m a little disheartened about (Smuts) taking this seriously,” he said. “I think that’s totally false.”